There are scenes in Silent Beauty that do feel homey and safe, when a woman, the documentary’s director, Jasmin Mara López, talks to her mother, their bodies close as they sit together on the couch. The mother talks about a hope that whatever they went through is making them stronger. And they’ll need that strength. Lopez is one of the first people to disclose the sexual assault that she endured at the hands of her grandfather. As it turns out, he also performed sexual acts to other children in her family. Her disclosure turned her into an outcast in her family.
Clocking in at a good 88 minutes, this documentary does have its share of archive footage and reenactments covering three generations of victimization and survival, but most of the scenes here are domestic ones. Hot Docs ends this year during Mother’s Day, and it’s imaginable that some viewers chose to stream this today. They’re watching a family of rape survivors try and succeed to be mothers to their own children. That work requires even the smallest of tasks, like mothers playing games with their daughters. They want to be the positive presences in their children’s lives because their parents weren’t.
Lopez also uses those archive footage and juxtaposes them with her recorded contemporaneous conversations with her cousins and sisters. Despite being an outcast to maybe half of her family, there are mothers and sisters and cousins who believe her because of what they’ve been through. The footage she uses is effectively haunting without being exploitative. And the conversations have so much comfort and power. Families, in theory, are there for each other, keeping its members from anyone harming them. These mothers and sisters and cousins are there to put theory in practice, a great thing to behold on film.